AmeriCorps has healthy presence on Kaua‘i

The first-ever AmeriCorps Week held in the middle of May marked a 14-year historic milestone with a weeklong recruitment and recognition event designed to bring more Americans into service, salute AmeriCorps members and alums for their powerful impact, and thank the community partners who make AmeriCorps possible.

Nationally a giant Habitat for Humanity “blitz build” by more than 500 AmeriCorps members in Gulfport, Miss., constructed 20 homes for those affected by Hurricane Katrina. Nationally My AmeriCorps, a new online space just for AmeriCorps members and alums, was launched.

Here on Kaua‘i, AmeriCorps members do service in a number of community agencies. Na Lei Wili Area Health Education Center, AmeriCorps HealthCorps Hawai‘i headed by Fran Becker was established for its AmeriCorps members to transform community service into an opportunity to address unmet community health needs and gain experience, skill, and confidence in order to clarify their career direction. The program encourages its members to pursue a career in the health field and has three project areas. Although each project area has a different focus, all serve the community in bettering the health and wellness of its people.

Healthy Lifestyle Changes

Members, each serving 300 volunteer hours, assist 30 people each in making a simplistic healthy lifestyle change. They educate the general population that they seek out on their own of the significance and importance of having a healthy lifestyle, and empower the individuals to make their own decisions on what that will include and how they commit to doing it. Each individual is encouraged to practice their changes over a 40-42 day cycle to create a simple habit and then build on it. Members, both male and female varying in age from 18 to 42 are Jennylen Espina, Amalia Gray, Jessica Lucas, Akira Nordmeier, Duquesa Padamada, Destiny Renfro, Chayla Sherman, Debra Spung, and Sir-Justin Wilkins.

Healthy Senior Living

Members (55 and older), each serving 450 volunteers hours, assist 30 other seniors (55 and older) each in living a healthy senior lifestyle within their home environment. The members educate the general population with an emphasis on the senior population, on the significance and importance of having a safe home environment, free of the hazards of slips, trips and falls, and do a Safety Home Inspection to assure such. Each individual is made aware of any hazards and when corrected receives a certificate of a hazard-free home. Two members to date are June Akuna and Patricia Wills.

Community Restoration and Clean-Up

One member serving 900 volunteer hours recruits and develops a community Youth Corps of six- to eight-year-old youth and young adults (16-25) with their leadership skills, and facilitates them through a community project of their choice that addresses the health and wellness concerns of their own community. The Youth Corps are being formed from the various Family Housing projects in Kapa‘a, Hanama‘ulu, Kawailehua and Kekaha. The Youth Corps will begin its projects as soon as school is out, and will continue as a sustainable activity for each community. Iya-Negra Lavezzari has a diverse cultural, educational and work-related background and is excited about the opportunity to share her knowledge, skills and aloha for the people and their communities.

Hawaii Literacy’s AmeriCorps Vista member Joshua Orphanidys is housed at the Lihu‘e Lutheran Church. He is tasked with the responsibility of training volunteers to tutor adults who wish assistance in reading and writing.

Orphanidys is on the lookout for more volunteers who would like to be trained for this new program on Kaua‘i, as well as adults who wish to improve their reading and writing. Orphanidys credits the AmeriCorps program for getting him here to Kaua‘i from Florida. He has joined the East Kauai Lions Club, is board president of a new soccer co-ed league, and serves meals at the Salvation Army to help give back to this community.

Other Vista members include Charly Andrade and Carolyn Gregory. Charleen K.S. Andrade, a Vista Outreach Worker for the county of Kaua‘i at the mayor’s office since July 31, 2003, is a single grandmother raising a 5-year-old child. A team player, she takes her role at Vista seriously, making a difference in the community and the lives of residents by helping to give resource information for the anti-drug meetings and the Ka Leo O Kaua’i program. Her fourth term has created a bonding with individuals as she works 40 hours a week.

Carolyn Gregory serves her fourth year with AmeriCorps. She is a graduate of Middlebury College with a bachelor’s in French, originally from the Mainland but has been in Hawai‘i for 42 years. When her managerial position as an executive in the luxury hotel industry here in Hawai‘i was eliminated after 9/11, she applied for and was accepted as the AmeriCorps Vista Reading Tutor Coordinator for Hanalei Elementary School, with the added bonus that her two granddaughters are students there.

At Vista it is her responsibility to recruit, train, and manage reading tutors from the local community who are parents, grandparents, local business people, retirees, and members of service organizations such as the Rotary Club of Hanalei which is very active in supporting children’s education. Several members have given of their time to tutor, and the club has been most generous in providing funds to support the reading programs. Her experience with AmeriCorps has been eye-opening and extremely rewarding. With one-on-one tutoring, reading abilities improve, often dramatically, and the students and their tutors develop close relationships. Tutors from the community, with so many varied life experiences, often open up a whole new world for island students.

According to Gregory, AmeriCorps’ support for the Vistas throughout the islands is excellent. Members are kept up-to-date on current education through conferences and trainings, and have the opportunity to network and form close friendships among Vista members, all of which translates to bigger and better help for the students they tutor.

The Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps is a hands-on service-learning program that aims to place young adults into conservation internships in order to educate youth and assist the environment. Since 1995, the HYCC has served Hawai‘i’s communities statewide, assisting a wide demographic area by placing youth in a program designed to help train and educate them through engaging in environmental service projects such as clearing acres of invasive species of plants, repairing and maintaining park trails and roads, and planting native plants back into forest areas to re-establish the ecosystem. Eric Twedt serves on the Kauai Invasive Species Committee.

Legal Aid Society of Hawai‘i “AmeriCorps Access to Justice Project” was established to meet the legal needs for low-income individuals and families across Hawai‘i. AmeriCorps members provide legal services to those qualified in family, consumer, housing and public benefits law issues. Services provided include referrals, counsel and advice, brief services, to full representation in civil cases. The projects substantially increase the access to justice for low-income families and individuals who would otherwise be unable to afford legal assistance. On Kaua‘i, Emiko Meyers is an alum having served two years with this AmeriCorps program. She also serves as guardian ad litem for foster children and is the managing attorney for the Kaua‘i Legal Aid Society.

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